None of this comes as a big surprise -- especially if, like me, you tap into social media during big live events like the Final Four to see if everyone else found Bill Raftery as annoying as I did. I suggested that fellow complainers turn down the TV commentary and listen to the radio instead. Which was kind of cool since the broadcast had a slight delay, so the radio commentators were presciently predicting plays rather than admiring them.
It was interesting to see that some folks watching the games commented on nearly every play -- meaning that they were adept at typing without having to look down at their keyboards. But I suspect the vast majority of watchers used commercial time to opine via social media. And since there seemed to be a commercial break after nearly every basket, there was LOTS of time to kill before the games restarted. (Hey, CBS, tons of complaining on Twitter about the number and length of ad pods).
Are we seeing two trends that kind of offset each other? As audiences fragment from millions of households watching live TV to tens of thousands, the networks rely on Big Live Events (sports championships, Oscars, series finales of hit shows) as tentpole events to increase what they charge advertisers, since watchers are less inclined to tape-delay watching BLE.
But when do you get the most social media activity? Of course, during those same BLEs. And I will wager that the vast majority of that nose-to-the-keyboard or touchpad activity happens during commercial breaks. Moreover, I think that having so many commercial breaks during BLEs (that, at least during March Madness, tended to show the same spots over and over ad nauseam) simply encourages viewers to mute the sound and fire up social media. And I will bet that for everyone who takes the time to post a comment, there are dozens more who spend commercial time reading comments looking for the one with the funniest stuff to say about the BLE.
To the social media body count, add in those who desert the TV (or iPad or phone) to head for the kitchen, the bathroom or to make an actual phone call (you remember those, right?). Of course set-top-box data doesn't tell the networks who had abandoned the screen during commercials, but I assume they have some sort of algorithm that factors "lost eyeballs" into their ad rates (or not?). If so, does it take into account the growth of social media use during broadcasts? It might calculate that as a net positive, since it shows "engagement" with the show. But I suspect otherwise. I suspect that commercial time is prime time for social media activity and that it has a net negative impact on the degree that viewers pay any attention to ads.By the way, my tweets about Raftery had no impact on CBS, since he was there to the very end. But my Sonos/radio workaround not only eliminated him, it also rescued me from the broadcast's commercials. That -- and social media.